Night noises of Kabul

A day before our return to Canada, the Internet became inaccessible in Kabul. That meant that the airport had to get the passengers out of the city the old-fashioned way—by hand writing boarding passes. Credit is due the airport employees; we were only about an hour late for our flight to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

At nighttime, the most dramatic difference between Canada and Kabul is the lack of noise. I miss Kabul’s ritual 3:40 a.m. call to prayer from mosque loudspeakers. The haunting chanting wakens you to other night sounds, such as the staccato clip clop of commerce as small horses, with the pretty dished faces of Arabians,  pull wooden flatbed carts filled with produce to market. Occasionally, a boom is heard from far away, bringing to mind the possibility of Taliban violence, rather than something more benign.

The Dog Days of Kabul

J2E – Afghanistan – In Afghanistan, there is a breed of dog called the Kuchi, or Anatolian shepherd. Dog fighting in Afghanistan is an unofficial national sport, and Kuchis are the ideal competitor. Fearless and massive, the animal has crushing jaws, a heavy skull, muscular shoulders and chest and long limbs and hindquarters.

For millennia, Kuchi dogs protected flocks of sheep and goats from predators like jackals. Today, the animal’s fighting prowess is exploited every Friday on the Muslim weekly holy day. Following prayers, the men of Afghanistan retire to a dusty dog-fighting ring where Kuchis—tails and ears docked— are pitted against one another. Thousands of dollars are bet on the outcome. Former British Royal Marine Pen Farthing rescued a Kuchi while on a tour of duty in war-torn Helmand province, an act of kindness that snowballed into a national rescue centre for stray cats and dogs called Nowzad Dogs. Adopting strays as pets was common among troops stationed in Afghanistan while fighting Taliban insurgents. Having a dog by your side, says Farthing, allowed the soldiers to “pretend for five minutes that you were back home instead of being bombed by the Taliban.”

The huge fellow pictured here, rescued from the dog-fighting ring, is called Sherak, which means ‘little lion.’ He lives with Farthing at the Nowzad Dogs shelter in Kabul. Sherak will not die of starvation, rabies, being shot at, poisoned, run over or torn apart in a dog-fighting ring, making him one of the lucky few. (Dogs are poisoned in Afghanistan because they carry rabies: 1,000 people in Kabul died after being bitten by rapid dogs last year, according to Farthing.)

Pregnant or with litters, abandoned, injured or feral—all are brought to the shelter to be vaccinated, spayed or neutered, socialized and adopted out. Some feral dogs cannot be socialized and bite if approached. Nonetheless, Farthing says, homes are found for them, too.

Nowzad Dogs is a charity, and depends upon donations to sustain operations, says Farthing, who retired from the marines three years ago to lead mountain climbing charity treks to raise money. Check out the centre’s video at

Afghanistan – first impressions


J2E-Afghanistan3 – The journey to Kabul took two days, but we’re here, and have already sampled the tasty and healthy Afghan cuisine at Sufi Restaurant and Gallery. The name honours the great Sufi poet, philosopher and mystic Muhammad Rumi, who is referred to as Persia’s Shakespeare. As the occasional NATO helicopter thundered overhead, we drank fresh mint lemonade and watermelon juice and ate pumpkin, eggplant, chickpea, rice and meat dishes, served under a huge open canopy, all the while seated on luxurious, hand-woven carpets.

The city is extremely dusty and bears the unmistakable signs of ongoing conflict, with police and military visible on street corners and armed private security personnel protecting hotels and businesses. There are very few women on the streets and you see fathers shepherding their small children—girls and boys—through the potholed, gravelly streets.